News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

March 26, 2014

ISU committed to making Tonyan a key contributor

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State’s 1-11 2013 football season was nightmarish in many ways, but one player who had to endure it with eyes more wide open than most was Robert Tonyan Jr.

Thrust into a much larger role than anticipated at quarterback when Mike Perish was injured in early October, and with injuries occurring all around him as well, the then-redshirt freshman struggled behind center.

Tonyan played 11 games, but completed just 34.3 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and five interceptions. He struggled to put the right touch and accuracy on his passes and an ISU offense that held promise entering the season ground to a halt by the middle of the 2013 campaign.

Tonyan was fighting an uphill battle to get time at quarterback in 2014. Perish is returning, Trent Lancaster showed positive signs of progress in a late-season stint, redshirt Matt Adam is eligible and Cincinnati transfer Patrick Coyne is expected to compete as well.

Tonyan might have had a rough go last year and the quarterback odds seemed stacked against him, but ISU’s coaching staff never lost faith that he could be of good use to the Sycamores. The McHenry, Ill. native has that rare combination of size and speed that can make him valuable at several positions.

So it was for Tonyan. During the offseason, he was moved to wide receiver.

Moving from the high-profile quarterback role to another position carries risk. There has to be buy-in from the player, first and foremost, and a comfort zone with his new role.

ISU is just one practice into its spring season, but Tonyan and coach Mike Sanford feel good about the move so far.

“We want to get Robert Tonyan on the field and we want to play him. He’s too good of an athlete to not [play]. We’re making the move with him to wide receiver and he’s got a lot of athletic ability. I’m excited about seeing what he can do there,” Sanford said.

Tonyan seemed to have no regrets.

“Whatever is beneficial to the team is what I want. I just want to win games just like everyone else,” Tonyan said. “It’s been an easy transition so far coming from quarterback. You know the offense, you know how you can look at coverages, you know when blitzes are going to happen before they happen.”

Tonyan said the discussion was straightforward.

“We went over it. We had the transfers coming in and we have Mike [Perish] coming in for his last year. Mike was hurt last year,” Tonyan said. “[Offensive coordinator Brian] Sheppard, [wide receivers coach Joe] Bever and Sanford sat me down and said, ‘You’re one of the best athletes on the team. Do you want to play another position and get more playing time?’ ”

Tonyan looked like a natural during ISU’s spring practice opener Monday. He seemingly ran routes well and didn’t appear to have any awkward moments catching passes from his former quarterback mates.

“The only thing difficult is running the routes and coming in on my breaks. Coach Sheppard has helped me out with that. I need to use my athleticism to get away from press coverage. My technique will come along,” he said.

Wide receiver wasn’t the only position discussed for Tonyan to switch to. Like a one-time ISU quarterback before him — Ryan Roberts — a move to defense was bandied about for Tonyan. Roberts had success with that switch. After an initial move to defensive back, he became one of the best linebackers in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

But Tonyan was familiar with offense and wanted to stay there.

“I played defensive back before college and that was also part of the thought process [on the switch], but that’s when I was 5-foot-8. Now I’m 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. Having gone through it and learned it last year, I just wanted to stay on the offensive side of the ball,” Tonyan said.

Sanford couldn’t be more pleased with the approach Tonyan has taken with his new position.

“He’s been fantastic and awesome about it. He’s had a great attitude and I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great athlete and watching him he has a great future as a receiver. You can’t jump up on the table yet after one practice, but I really like what I see,” Sanford said.

 

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